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Article: My Quest for a New DAC, Part 5: Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler & Hugo TT 2


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On 2/23/2019 at 7:55 AM, hlkaye said:

Thanks for all your hard work.  You must have suffered terribly through this ordeal.

 

Thanks for caring. I can't even begin to describe the agony I went through! :)

 

On 2/23/2019 at 7:55 AM, hlkaye said:

If you were forced to limit yourself to the original aim of finding a new DAC in the $5K range and had to choose one of the DACs you reviewed for a speaker based system, which one (or two) might you rank highest?

 

Well, it's a bit more than $5k, but to my ears the order would be the Chord TT 2, followed close on its heels by the Ayre QX-8. But when you're talking about this quality, they're both outstanding DACs. I'd suggest auditioning both.

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On 2/22/2019 at 11:53 PM, mozes said:

No need to spend $$$ to upgrade the performance of the TT2 by investing in a PSU a la PH SR7. I found a clearly noticeable improvement by replacing the stock PSU of the TT2 with a 50,000 mah laptop powerbank at 15V. I don't know why, but maybe less noise from the SMPS. All of my gear are plugged to one dedicated AC circuit.

P.S. I use the TT2 to directly drive my Omega speakers.

 

Rob Watts suggested that the issue with noise may not be from the PSU feeding the Chord DAC, but noise from the PSU affecting amplifiers connected. In other words, the noise was going back from the wall-wart into the amps through their power connection. However if no amp was used other than the built-in amp in the TT2, then I guess that wasn't the issue here.

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15 hours ago, Currawong said:

 

Rob Watts suggested that the issue with noise may not be from the PSU feeding the Chord DAC, but noise from the PSU affecting amplifiers connected. In other words, the noise was going back from the wall-wart into the amps through their power connection. However if no amp was used other than the built-in amp in the TT2, then I guess that wasn't the issue here.

 

At least in my review system, I tried both the TT2's own headphone amp and a Cavalli Liquid Gold amp. Even with the latter, the benefits of the SR-7 PSU were evident.

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Thank you Rajiv for a really excellent review of the HMS+TT2. Your vivid description coincides with my own impression of Chord Blu2 + Dave. 

There is one small issue that I hope I can ask for your opinion. To me DSD playback in Chord Blu2+ Dave cannot achieve the same level as PCM playback. This is because the mscaler in Blu2 will convert the DSD to PCM before upscaling to 705.6 or 768 and pass to Dave(or TT2) . I saw that you mentioned playing DSD from HMS to TT2 using improved DSD filters. Does that mean that there is new programming that DSD is sent as DSD intact or it still requires conversion to PCM and then upscale to 768 and then convert back to DSD ? Thanks

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14 hours ago, hols said:

Thank you Rajiv for a really excellent review of the HMS+TT2. Your vivid description coincides with my own impression of Chord Blu2 + Dave. 

There is one small issue that I hope I can ask for your opinion. To me DSD playback in Chord Blu2+ Dave cannot achieve the same level as PCM playback. This is because the mscaler in Blu2 will convert the DSD to PCM before upscaling to 705.6 or 768 and pass to Dave(or TT2) . I saw that you mentioned playing DSD from HMS to TT2 using improved DSD filters. Does that mean that there is new programming that DSD is sent as DSD intact or it still requires conversion to PCM and then upscale to 768 and then convert back to DSD ? Thanks

 

Hi @hols

 

Just to clarify, please take a look at what I wrote in the context of the Arnesen piece. I wasn't trying to compare HMS/TT2's PCM vs. DSD capabilities (I guess I could have), but rather I wanted to see whether with DSD input streams, the HMS/TT2's SQ relative to the QX-5 changed drastically. It did not. So all I can say is that the HMS's DSD filter sounds very good!

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On 2/23/2019 at 2:36 PM, str-1 said:

I would encourage those who get or who audition a TT 2 to also experiment with the Lo- and Hi-Gain settings using their preferred headphones.  

 

With my analytical and highly revealing Focal Utopia/Prion4 combo I can clearly hear a difference between Lo- and Hi-gain, with both Amp and DAC setting.  For me, Lo-Gain is a little lighter, more open and transparent, while Hi-Gain delivers a slightly darker, fuller and more solid sound.  These differences are less clear on my warmer HE1000v2/Lazuli Reference combo.

 

Interesting. My listening did include the Utopia on hand, along with the other headphones I mentioned.

 

I checked with Rob about what this setting does. His words:

Lo gain and hi gain just involves a relay contact - with the relay open, it defaults to hi gain; with the relay closed a resistor is placed in parallel to the feedback resistor. I do not expect this to make any significant difference to the SQ.

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15 hours ago, austinpop said:

I checked with Rob about what this setting does. His words:

Lo gain and hi gain just involves a relay contact - with the relay open, it defaults to hi gain; with the relay closed a resistor is placed in parallel to the feedback resistor. I do not expect this to make any significant difference to the SQ.

No guarantees a difference will be heard by those trying this, let alone a significant difference.  These are not night and day differences by any means.

 

I would expect the level of significance to diminish, and perhaps preference to change, with warmer headphone/cable combos and with higher crossfeed and warmer filter settings (I might be wrong but I've gained the impression from reading Rob's posts over the last 2-3 years that he likes neutral to warm headphones, crossfeed set to 3, and green filter).  The difference was significant enough for me to clearly prefer Hi-Gain with both my Utopia and HE1000v2 headphones on crossfeed 0 or 1 and with the analytical filter.  I was less certain what setting I preferred with the Meze Empyrean I had on loan, which I felt benefited at times from the slightly more open and transparent, but leaner, Lo-Gain setting.

 

I first mentioned the differences I was hearing between Lo- and Hi-Gain settings on Head-fi back in October.  One or two others subsequently agreed that they were hearing the same.

Zenith SE > USPCB (5v off) > tX-USBultra 9V (SR4) > Sablon Reserva Elite USB > M Scaler > WAVE Stream bnc > DAVE > Prion4/Lazuli Reference > Utopia/LCD-4/HE1000se

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11 hours ago, str-1 said:

No guarantees a difference will be heard by those trying this, let alone a significant difference.  These are not night and day differences by any means.

 

I would expect the level of significance to diminish, and perhaps preference to change, with warmer headphone/cable combos and with higher crossfeed and warmer filter settings (I might be wrong but I've gained the impression from reading Rob's posts over the last 2-3 years that he likes neutral to warm headphones, crossfeed set to 3, and green filter).  The difference was significant enough for me to clearly prefer Hi-Gain with both my Utopia and HE1000v2 headphones on crossfeed 0 or 1 and with the analytical filter.  I was less certain what setting I preferred with the Meze Empyrean I had on loan, which I felt benefited at times from the slightly more open and transparent, but leaner, Lo-Gain setting.

 

I first mentioned the differences I was hearing between Lo- and Hi-Gain settings on Head-fi back in October.  One or two others subsequently agreed that they were hearing the same.

 

Thanks for the observations. I'll definitely revisit this when I get the HMS/TT2.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Wonderfully insightful review @austinpop. I think i'll revisit that Hugo 2 now. Wondering though if you could shed some light on the storage of your music library. I think i've read somewhere you have files stored on a NAS? Where does this fit in the chain. I assume you've found this to be better than an SSD in your server?? I'm about to build a server, hence the curiosity. 

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35 minutes ago, Hardinge said:

Wonderfully insightful review @austinpop. I think i'll revisit that Hugo 2 now. Wondering though if you could shed some light on the storage of your music library. I think i've read somewhere you have files stored on a NAS? Where does this fit in the chain. I assume you've found this to be better than an SSD in your server?? I'm about to build a server, hence the curiosity. 

 

Thanks.

 

As it happens, I just posted a picture of my network topology in another thread, but hopefully it’ll answe your question:

 

https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/30376-a-novel-way-to-massively-improve-the-sq-of-computer-audio-streaming/?do=findComment&comment=942524

 

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On 2/24/2019 at 7:25 PM, ray-dude said:

Thankfully, that setup is only temporary for audio nights (the civilians in the house are a patient lot, but not that patient ;)

 

We did not listen to the Omega/TT2 combo in near field so I can't answer directly (it's my buddy's TT2, alas, so I can't check right now).  However, the effect of the TT2 on the Omegas is very different than the effect of the DAVE over the TT2 though.  

 

The TT2 really extends the tonal range of the Omegas, and brings much more presence and relaxed sound.  It feels like a different speaker with the additional authority behind it.   We also have within our group First Watt F1J and F2J amps, and they both had a similar transformational impact on the Omega (hard to believe they are the same speaker as what we hear direct from Hugo2 and DAVE).  Unfortunately, even with the First Watt amps, you give up so much that incredible transparency that you get direct.  With TT2, you have an approximation of that "full'ish" range speaker effect with the Omegas, but retain all that amazing transparency and detail.  HMS obviously takes it to the next level, and the Voxativ Z bass driver makes it a no compromise full range speaker system that (for me) blows most conventional high end speaker rigs away (my previous speakers before going with direct driven speakers from Chord DACs were B&W 802d3's)

 

Interestingly, Voxativ drivers don't get that extra extension from either the First Watt amps or the TT2.  For them, the extra transparency and spatial detail (esp. depth and height dimensions) from the DAVE dominate the A/B comparisons.  Those differences are also there with the Omegas, but the lift from the TT2 is so profound, that that is a VERY easy tradeoff for me to make.  

 

Once you've had a DAVE for extended amount of time, you really notice when that amazing depth and height detail goes away.  For me, DAVE is still king (Rajiv's wallet was wise not to demo it ;), but the extra power and upgrade speed of the TT2 really brings something extra to the table for speakers like the Omegas.

 

Hi Ray-Dude , I have the same Omega Speakers with the First Watts SIT-3 although I will be auditioning the Klipsch Cornwall IV speakers with 102db efficiency. How do you connect the TT2 to the speakers?  If I could sell the amp that would help me purchase the DAC and the M-Scaler. I  have 2,000 DSD albums with thousands of tracks. I read that they are converted to PCM and they don't sound that great.   Any opinion on that? 

 

Roon software, Lenovo TS 440 server, IPad Air 2 for remote control and Dell 2340T display, Dell Latitude 7140 tablet (Windows 8.1, 256 SSD and 8 GB RAM) with Dell docking station, Aqua Hifi LaScala mk ii DAC, Allnic L 5000 DHT preamp, Shaker Logic Attune with two outputs for the amplifiers, Vitus SS-101 mk ii amp, Bosendorfer VC-7 speakers and Focal Sub Utopia Be subwoofer.

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I have custom rca to female banana adapters that I use. If you want something for a quick experiment, Amazon has RCA to banana cables (cheap but good for seeing if the approach makes sense for you). 

 

I’ve found that DSD content Sounds pretty good with Chord DACs, but that mScaler elevates PCM content much higher still. Rob Watts has written about the reasons why, but I think it is less about DSD not sounding good (it is the best I’ve heard in my room) but PCM sounding astonishingly good when put through the mScaler. 
 

that being said, I haven’t auditioned PS Audio or other DACs that have a reputation for outstanding SQ with DSD, so I can’t comment on how well Chord DACs stack up. 

ATT Fiber -> EdgeRouter X SFP -> Sonore opticalModule -> Taiko Audio Extreme -> Chord DAVE -> Voxativ 9.87 speakers w/ 4D drivers

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1 hour ago, ray-dude said:

I’ve found that DSD content Sounds pretty good with Chord DACs, but that mScaler elevates PCM content much higher still. Rob Watts has written about the reasons why, but I think it is less about DSD not sounding good (it is the best I’ve heard in my room) but PCM sounding astonishingly good when put through the mScaler.  

 

This has been my observation as well.  I’ve occasionally found myself preferring the PCM layer of hybrid SACDs over the DSD layer.  I’ve been pulling the discs out again to rip the PCM as I had previously only ripped the DSD layer assuming it would always be superior.  

Digital:  Innuos Zenith Mk3 > Shunyata Sigma USB > Chord Hugo M-Scaler > Wireworld Gold Startlight > OPTO DX > Shunyata Alpha S/PDIF > Chord Hugo TT2 

Amp & Speakers:  Spectral DMA-150mk2 > Aerial 10T

Foundation: Stillpoints Ultra, Shunyata Denali power conditioner, Shunyata Alpha power cords, Shunyata Alpha interconnect, Shunyata Sigma Ethernet, MIT Matrix HD60 speaker cables, ASC isothermal tube traps

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The PCM layer of an SACD is red book only. What discs have better redbook layers than their 64x DSD masters?  Those must be a mess (assuming a credible DSD converter). 

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16 hours ago, ted_b said:

The PCM layer of an SACD is red book only. What discs have better redbook layers than their 64x DSD masters?  Those must be a mess (assuming a credible DSD converter). 


One example would be the MoFi reissue of “The Cars”.  I thought the cymbal on “All Mixed Up” was more realistically reproduced from a timing perspective on the PCM layer.  
 

Per what ray-dude wrote, this is more about M-Scaler elevating PCM.  I would take it even further by saying that redbook is elevated to the point where I no longer feel the need to find a high res versions.  It’s much more about mastering now than resolution when the choice is strictly PCM.
 

DSD can sound fantastic though for sure.  I preferred the DSD layer of MoFi’s “Abraxas” to the CD layer.  They did a really good job on that one.

Digital:  Innuos Zenith Mk3 > Shunyata Sigma USB > Chord Hugo M-Scaler > Wireworld Gold Startlight > OPTO DX > Shunyata Alpha S/PDIF > Chord Hugo TT2 

Amp & Speakers:  Spectral DMA-150mk2 > Aerial 10T

Foundation: Stillpoints Ultra, Shunyata Denali power conditioner, Shunyata Alpha power cords, Shunyata Alpha interconnect, Shunyata Sigma Ethernet, MIT Matrix HD60 speaker cables, ASC isothermal tube traps

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  • 2 months later...

Want to share a little secret. Power both tt2 and HMS with sperate 12v ups battery like 18ah or 26ah. But be careful to not to accidentally connect the battery in reverse polarity as it will immediately blow the protection diode inside. So cover one terminal by some tape or something so that there is no possibility of reversing the polarity even by accident. I have permanently fixed one wire to terminal to avoid that possibility. After the battery is drained to the level when tt2 is not powered enough, it will shut done indicating low power and in low power HMS will start breaking intermittently the output through dual bnc. Then you know its time to charge the battery. One full charge of 26ah 12v battery gives around 15 to 18 hours of playback which is sufficient. Believe me it will be the best and cheapest upgrade you can do with this combo because no lps or even power bank can beat clean battery power as power banks also have regulators inside. Also get a good quality BNC cables like oyaide dbnc 510 or some good furutech bulk cables and use 3 or 4 clip on ferrite per cable on tt side. You don't need ferrite in all along the length as too many will affect "drivability of digital signal" by increasing the impedance too much and sound may lose weight or punch after certain numbers of ferrites (3 or 4 per cable ) don't heed any bullshit of RFI affecting tt2 if you keep both tt2 and HMS too close. I found no affect of RFI with the above tweaks in place .

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Imho tt2 and HMS combo driven with 12v ups batteries and 3-4 ferrited BNC cables beats any dac combo on earth, it's so clean and realistic. There are much more details, depth and realism that it is difficult to believe that it is not a live performance.

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Battery/power makes a surprising amount of positive impact.  For those going down the power/RFI rabbit hole with the HMS and Chord DACs, I spent WAY too much time on same earlier this year and wrote up my notes:

 

https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/audiowise-opto•dx-optical-isolation-bridge-for-dual-spdif.23757/reviews#review-22155

 

(with apologies to Chris for linking off site...in retrospect, AS would have been a better forum for this sort of write up)

ATT Fiber -> EdgeRouter X SFP -> Sonore opticalModule -> Taiko Audio Extreme -> Chord DAVE -> Voxativ 9.87 speakers w/ 4D drivers

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2 hours ago, ankur625 said:

Imho tt2 and HMS combo driven with 12v ups batteries and 3-4 ferrited BNC cables beats any dac combo on earth, it's so clean and realistic. There are much more details, depth and realism that it is difficult to believe that it is not a live performance.

Ankur625, what dac combos are you comparing this to (i.e which ones have you experienced)?  And how does this combo do with DSD-based material, esp DSD256 recordings?  I love Chords stuff, and have documented my awe of Rob and his thought process.  But I've always felt his stuff doesn't do DSD justice like some other dacs.  My $.02..I haven't heard the TT2/HMS.

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Ted, I concur that DSD does not have as much magic as PCM when going through Chord DACs.  With mScaler, the lift for PCM content is so profound, that the separation over DSD is amplified even more.

 

Rob has written many times about why he feels that's the case.  The gist is that it is not possible to to fully reconstruct the original source with DSD, and that with 1M taps with the mScaler, he's able to approximate the original source to more than 16 bits accuracy.  Net net: the magic of Rob's reconstruction strategy is much stronger for PCM content vs DSD content.

 

Does your current DAC support 768kHz content on USB?  If so, in HQP, give the new poly-sinc-long-lp PCM filter (no dither) a go.  For PCM content, this is a very good approximation of what I hear with mScaler in HMS.

 

I've not had a chance to listen to any summit-fi DSD-first DACs, so I can't say which strategy is better (in an absolute sense)

ATT Fiber -> EdgeRouter X SFP -> Sonore opticalModule -> Taiko Audio Extreme -> Chord DAVE -> Voxativ 9.87 speakers w/ 4D drivers

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  • 3 months later...

I would love to read your follow up switch to the Chord DAVE. When I read this originally all I could think is "the DAVE is in the back of his mind and eventually going to drive him to buy it sooner than later"!

Furutech GTX-D>J River 26>Curious USB>Chord Hugo TT2>Meze Emyrean Copper Cable>Meze Empyrean Headphones>my ears>audiophile brain

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  • 2 weeks later...

I bought the Hugo TT 2 a few days ago after having bought the Qutest and traded back in a few days thinking ahead of the curve. This is spectacular. I'll get the M-Scaler sometime in the next six months to complete this. Crazy great and the headphone amp is superb.

Furutech GTX-D>J River 26>Curious USB>Chord Hugo TT2>Meze Emyrean Copper Cable>Meze Empyrean Headphones>my ears>audiophile brain

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